Thursday, December 2

‘Ecological Civilization’: An Empty Slogan or China Will Act on the Environment? | Environment

This week, China took over hosting a major UN environmental conference for the first time, at the inauguration of Cop15 in Kunming. The world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the largest consumer of natural resources may seem like an odd choice to host talks to halt the destruction of ecosystems and mass extinctions of wildlife, but the conference marks a turning point in development. from China and an international debut for “ecological civilization.” ”, A little-known phrase outside its borders with great implications for the planet.

Amid uncertainty over whether President Xi Jinping will attend critical climate talks at Cop26 in Glasgow, the environmental slogan is at the center of a potential misunderstanding between China and the West. Some commentators have been quick to suggest that Xi’s alleged absence is proof that China has rewritten, an example of world leaders “talking but not doing” that have so irritated the Queen. But others point out that Xi, who has not left China since last year – did not attend the UN general assembly in New York – and did not even travel to Kunming for the COP15 summit that China was hosting this week, has been clear about it. its guiding principles on the environment.

“We will take the development of an ecological civilization as our guide in coordinating the relationship between man and nature,” Xi said in his keynote address at the largely ceremonial opening of Cop15 in southern Yunnan province on Tuesday, where announced a sum of $ 233. Fund of m (£ 170 million) to protect biodiversity in developing countries. Governments are expected to reach a Paris-style UN agreement for nature during phase two of the summit next year by agreeing on targets to reduce pollution, stop the spread of invasive species and increase protected areas.

Residential apartment blocks in Beijing.
Residential apartment blocks in Beijing. China’s rapid economic growth in recent decades has come at a great cost to nature. Photograph: Greg Baker / AFP / Getty

Xi stressed the importance of living within planetary boundaries and building a low-carbon and green circular economy while solving the problems created by industrialization. Russian President Vladimir Putin also alluded to an ecological civilization in his comments to delegates. Prince Charles has hinted at it too, paying homage to the “intimate understanding of nature” that has underpinned Chinese civilization for thousands of years.

But what does ecological civilization mean for China and the world? On the surface, it is the motto of Chinese efforts to embrace environmental sustainability and move on from four decades of rapid economic growth that have come at great cost to nature, experts say. Beijing’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2060, the commitment to reach maximum emissions by 2030 and the decision to end financing for coal-fired power plants abroad are part of it, they add, but it also covers traditional medicine. , wildlife trade, hydroelectric dams and agricultural methods. . Ecological civilization is an axiom of “Xi Jinping Thought”, the political ideology of the Chinese President, now enshrined together with Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory in the Chinese Communist Party constitution.

Xi Jinping's books on sale at the Cop15 summit in Kunming this week.
Xi Jinping’s books on sale at Cop15 this week. The president’s policies now sit alongside Mao Zedong’s thinking within the Chinese Communist Party. Photograph: AFP / Getty

“It started in 2017 when Xi Jinping inserted ecological civilization into the party statute,” says Dr Yu Jie from London. Thinktank Chatham House. “It shows the enormous importance of a policy that revolves around the protection of the environment. Sustainable development is one of the key policy areas that he focuses on during his tenure. In recent years, ecological civilization has been based mainly on words, but very few facts on the international stage. But I think China’s announcement of abolishing coal plant finance [abroad] it is part of a change that is beginning to emerge. “

The repeatedly delayed opening of Cop15 has provided China with an opportunity to bring ecological civilization to the world stage. Unlike the UN climate talks, the US is not part of the convention on biological diversity and China can set the agenda more easily. TO statement Endorsed by more than 100 environment ministers this week has Green Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth stamped on top, a sign that Beijing wants to make its mark on the biodiversity and climate talks.

“Many Western policy analysts believe that perhaps climate diplomacy is one of the elements that the United States and China could work on together. But actually, I don’t think so, ”Yu warns. “China will play a much larger role in international environmental governance. We will see a much stronger push from Beijing for its environmental agenda to be embraced by the rest of the world. “

In China, ecological civilization is marked by phrases with uncomfortable English translations such as “green mountains are mountains of gold and mountains of silver”, commonly quoted by Xi, which aims to highlight the importance of a healthy environment for economic development. In recent years, another phrase, “build a beautiful China,” has also appeared in Chinese state media, suggesting a high-level push in a similar direction.

View of the mountains in Shennongjia, a world heritage site in Hubei province.
Shennongjia, a world heritage site in Hubei province. “Green mountains are mountains of gold and mountains of silver” is a slogan Xi uses to highlight the importance of the environment in economic development. Photography: Sipa Asia / Rex / Shutterstock

Since Xi first used the phrase, the central government has issued a series of documents and reforms have been introduced. On Tuesday, Beijing announced that it would establish China’s first national parks. State media say protected land area covers 89,000 square miles (230,000 square kilometers) and almost 30% of the main species of terrestrial fauna identified in China.

Phrases presenting ecological civilization are now everywhere in the Chinese media, says Ma Jun, a Beijing-based environmental activist and former investigative journalist. Ma’s writing on pollution helped spark an environmental awakening in China in the early 2000s. His book, China water crisis – published in China in 1999 and in the West in 2004 – it details the suffering of communities caused by pollution, which has largely been accepted as the price of economic development.

He said: “The Chinese are getting richer and richer and they want a healthy and safe environment. We are entering a new phase of human development. For the Industrial Revolution, man gained all this power to conquer and transform nature. But this new civilization means that we must try to live in harmony with nature. Mountains, rivers, forests, farmlands, lakes, wetlands, and grasslands – they are all part of a community. For an ecological civilization, we must try to tackle air, water and soil pollution. “

As China grows richer, its citizens expect the environment in which they live to be protected. He is also rewriting the social contract between the ruler and the ruled. Reports of water and air pollution enrage citizens, who then turn to social media to complain.

A profusion of plants covers the balconies of a residential block in Chengdu, Sichuan province.
A residential block in Chengdu, Sichua. Although environmentalism looms large in Chinese politics, the country’s coal and gas imports have skyrocketed. Photograph: AFP / Getty

But despite the phrase’s prominence in China, some suggest that ecological civilization is a triumph of style over substance when it comes to the environment.

Experts say that the decisions China makes in the next decade will define the success of international agreements on climate and nature. But amid a growing energy crisis, China’s coal and natural gas imports have risen. So far, Beijing has also not joined the growing movement of countries pledging to protect 30% of the land and sea by 2030 (the “30×30” initiative) led by France, Costa Rica and the United Kingdom. which recently added India to its ranks.

It is a dilemma for China’s policy makers. But whatever the final definition of ecological civilization, Xi has made it the core of Beijing’s action on the environment.

“Ecological civilization represents the development trend of human civilization,” he said at the conclusion of his speech on Tuesday. “Let us join hands and follow the philosophy of ecological civilization and assume our responsibility for future generations.”

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